5 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain.

I had a reader ask me a couple of days ago about what she can do during the special holiday meals to help prevent weight gain. Of course, she's not unlike most of us who don't want to be rude when invited to friends and family meals.   Here's my take.

We don't want to pick and choose which foods we eat when we visit friends and family for holiday meals. This is partly because many hosts are offended or hurt when we reject what they spent hours to make.

As a result of this question, I decided to talk with my readers about what I am serving for Christmas dinner, and what I will do to minimize excess poundage. Note, that I do not go for the fat-free, sugar-free Christmas choices.

First, I don't like all my foods to be fat-free or sugar-free. Second, most of my guests won't appreciate fat-free, sugar free either–especially at Christmas. Besides, I have discovered through personal experience that if I feel deprived, my long-term goals of weight management will not be successful. As MyFitnessPal recently noted,


Bottom line is whether you consume more calories than you burn through activities of daily living and exercise.

Quickly, I just want to mention something.  Food is composed of three different “macronutrients” known commonly as carbohydrates, protein, and fat.  Each gram of fat in food is equal to 9 calories, each gram of carbohydrate is equal to 4 calories, and each gram of protein is also 4 calories. Thus, fat is more than twice as calorie dense as carbohydrates and protein. Thus, if your diet is high in fat, the amount of food will have to be lower to achieve calorie balance.

Remember what I just said about the “Twinkie Diet?” Well, the principle that allows it to be possible to basically eat anything you want is,

  1. Calories in = Calories out = Weight maintenance
  2. Calories in < Calories out = Weight Loss
  3. Calories in > Calories out = Weight Gain

For example, if I eat 1500 calories a day and use 1500 calories a day through regular activity and exercise, then I will maintain my weight. And If I eat 1500 calories and burn and extra 300 calories a day for a total of 1800 calories used, I will lose weight over time. In contrast, if I eat 1500 calories and only use 1200 calories, I will gain weight over time.

One pound is equal to 3500 calories. So, if you have a 300-calorie deficit, you will lose 1 pound every 11-12 days. If you have a 300-calorie surplus, you will gain 1 pound every 11-12 days.

1.  Remember that Portion Sizes Matter

The first and most important of the 5 ways to avoid holiday weight gain is to remember that portion sizes matter.

To not feel deprived, and to be successful in long-term weight loss and maintenance, I have discovered that I can eat any food within reason.

So, rather than focusing on what I “should” or “shouldn't” eat, I have found it's much more efficient to be aware of portion size.  However, it is important to remember that portion sizes will have to be smaller for foods that are more calorie dense if you want to maintain your weight or lose some extra weight. This is why I use a calorie counting app to keep track of my calorie intake.

Since having my son, I have struggled with my weight. When I got serious about losing the extra 40 pounds or so that I gained when I stopped breastfeeding, I learned that keeping track of my calories keeps me on track. Most recently, I have lost 15 pounds this way.  My app of choice is MyFitnessPal. But there are others that are good as well.

And just to make sure I'm being clear; I'm not suggesting you eat junk food all day. It's just an extreme example to illustrate a crucial point that most diet fads don't acknowledge. One specific food group is not the enemy.

Below are the foods I'm going to serve for Christmas and their calorie content. I got this information from MyFitnessPal. I just love My Fitness Pal! I've written about this app before.


Beef Loin New York Steak Roast – Weight of roast before cooking is 4.56 pounds (16 oz per lb.; 16 x 4.56 = 73 ounces raw weight divided by 4 oz serving =18.25 servings without trimming – According to MyFitnessPal app, 4 oz = 250 calories (3 ounce is size of deck of cards).

Normally, if there is a lot of visible fat, you can remove the fat to save calories, but this roast doesn't have a lot of visible fat, so that won't be an option.

Cheesy Baked Rice – My son absolutely LOVES this, and he wants me to make it more often than just Christmas. However, I save it for Christmas so that it will be more special. I use Basmati Rice in most of my rice dishes because it adds a nutty flavor which is much more interesting than plain rice. I got the original recipe from Chowhound several years ago. But I've made a couple of changes.

1) Regular butter instead of unsalted butter mainly because I don't want to spend extra money buying unsalted butter when I don't use it that much.

2) Regular chicken base/broth

3) Reduce the amount of salt from 2 1/2 teaspoons to 1/2 teaspoon salt.

I will never understand using all those unsalted ingredients, and then adding extra salt! Just my own opinion. Not only that, but I have NEVER used that much salt in any recipe I have made. But I regress…

4) 2% milk in place of heavy cream, which no one will hardly even notice despite that this is the first year I've decided to do this. The reason is the recipe has butter and cheese which have plenty of fat (and flavor) on their own.

The original recipe says that it makes 6-8 servings. However, my experience is that it makes quite a bit more than that. But, for the sake of not underestimating calories I am using 8 servings, 396 calories with the changes I'm making. The original recipe has 525 calories.

Roll – Calories will vary depending on type of roll. For example, the rolls we served at Thanksgiving were whole wheat, but they had 190 calories! In contrast, 2 oz sourdough dinner roll has 150 calories. Plus, butter, if you use any 100 calories per tablespoon.

1/2 roll = 75 calories. Therefore, I usually half one with my mom, with 1/2 tablespoon butter, that's only 125 calories (75 for roll and 50 for butter). This is why breads, grains and other carbohydrate rich foods have a reputation for making you fat.

This is because people don't pay attention to how much they are eating. So,


I know this is the same as the first way to avoid Holiday weight gain. But IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT!!!

In fact, it is the most important of the five ways to avoid holiday weight gain.

Broccoli – without butter – 1/2 cup = 15 calories, with butter – 1/2 cup with 1 teaspoon butter – 47 calories

Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce (from McCormick) 1/2 cup = 89 calories. (I made this at Thanksgiving. It is so good)!

Dutch Apple Pie – 1 serving 360 calories.

150 calories for 1/2 cup regular ice cream

So total for regular serving sizes:  250 calories for 4 oz roast, 396 calories for 1/2 cup rice, 225 calories for sourdough roll with 1/2 tablespoon butter, 47 calories (broccoli w/butter); cranberry sauce, 1/2 cup 89 calories, Dutch Apple pie 360 calories, regular vanilla ice cream 150 calories per 1/2 cup.

Total calories including apple pie and ice cream: 1517

My calorie allowance when I don't work out is only 1330 calories!!! BUT it's only one day, and you can save calories by eating less of everything.

If you cut serving sizes in half, you will be down to 1/2 of 1517, which is 759. You can also take the ice cream off completely or have only ice cream on the dessert.

One of the best ways to decrease portion size without noticing so much is to use smaller plates. If you tried to put all those foods on a regular size dinner (9 oz) plate, you would have to put a lot less of each to fit.  Standard size is about 12 ounces and 6 ounces for dessert plate.


In previous years, our family has gone too crazy with the pre-dinner snacks. Not only were we doing some serious calorie loading, but we weren't as hungry for the main meal, and didn't enjoy the meal as much.

Now that I'm watching my calories more, I am limiting snacks served.

For example, for Thanksgiving, we had carrots, potato chips, onion dip, wheat thins, cheese, grapes tomatoes. Other years we've had all that PLUS 2-3 other kinds of chips and crackers, salami, nuts, ranch dip, avocado dip, and there's only five of us! Now that's just ridiculous.

So, for Christmas, it's carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, one type of chip, one type of cracker, cheese, and onion dip (made from Lipton Onion Soup Mix and sour cream).


Eat lots of carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, or serve vegetables you like and enjoy so that you will want to eat them. For the main meal, I'm serving broccoli because my son wants broccoli for most meals, and we didn't have broccoli on Thanksgiving. If you like broccoli, eat lots of it! Without butter, it hardly has any calories, plus it's super good for you!


I put the snacks out around 1:00. So, theoretically this could be our lunch. (We usually eat dinner around 6 pm). With a light breakfast, and smaller portion sizes, I just might stay close to my calorie allowance. For example, I might have yogurt, fruit and a slice of toast, or a bowl of nice whole grain cereal with a banana.

But remember, it is calories consumed OVER TIME, not just one day that makes a difference in overall calorie balance. So, if you eat a bit less the day before and a bit less the day after, you will have a balance and will be successful with long-term weight management. My Fitness Pal shows you your daily intakes and has an option for 7 days so you can see if there's an overall deficit or surplus over time.

Also remember that one pound is equal to 3500 calories. So, you won't gain weight from going overboard one day in the year, if you aren't regularly consuming more calories than you are using in your daily living.

6. EXERCISE the day before and the day after (and the day of, if possible).

Can I be honest?

One of the main reasons I exercise regularly is so that I can eat more. That's right!!! (If all I could eat was 1300 calories a day, I'd be in BIG trouble weight-wise).

I also exercise because it calms me down. This is a bonus and can be helpful during the holidays when dealing with the extra stress that comes with the joy of the season (including the stress of all those relatives you don't have a good relationship with).

My gym won't be open this Christmas, so that means if I want to burn extra energy, I must exercise at home. I will not exercise on Christmas but will have an extra good workout the day before and the day after.

In past years, a few of us have gone on walks after dinner. That's a really effective way to burn extra calories and to refresh yourself. Noone in my family likes walking, and I don't like to walk alone. This is a good example of how you have to find what works for you. If you like walking, this is an excellent idea, and something you can integrate into your everyday living.

Just a few thoughts for now. Until next time…

Merry Christmas!

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